After a successful event at Copenhagen University organized by my friend, professor of English and erudite scholar in extremis, Charles Lock, on the work of Leonora Carrington, I came home with a sense of the significance of what obsessed the surrealists: “the object.” But what object? There are many, of course, and in Carrington’s case the object is a white horse, a trans-national “thing” migrating from the Arthurian legends to the Mexican alchemists. In spite of having lived in Mexico since the 40s, Carrington’s aristocratic English background does not deny itself where knowledge about Celtic culture is concerned. But while the horses populate almost all of her some 1000 paintings to date, they are also trapped in some sort of imaginary dusty tower. One of the effects of looking at surrealist paintings is making instant visual associations of more objects, including ones that seem hidden in the canvas or altogether absent from it. So, the invisible tower, I thought, as the res absconditum, trapping images devoid of energy, must be the other object at work in surrealist paintings.

What hit me was the fact that one hardly ever sees energy at work in these works. Things fly, to be sure, but the movement as such never conveys any energy. If anything, the dream-like movement is more suggestive of a wasteland where, if Excalibur is welded, it is not through fire but sand. “Sentimentality is a form of fatigue” Carrington said, which made me think that perhaps she was thinking about the difference between Celts and alchemists. Where the first ask, ‘can magic create energy?’ the latter are more into economy: ‘can we afford to lose energy?’, thus presupposing that all that glitters has already undergone the process of becoming gold, and is consequently worth holding on to.

Dramatizing is a form of fatigue captured in the tower of doubt and dismay. Carrington uses Venetian red in her paintings, and yellow of the Mexican desert. In one of her most iconic self-portraits, Carrington dressed in white pants and high heeled boots cuts across these other shades as if asking herself: are certain events created for us, intended for us? Today's event ended with wine and fragments of Mexican poetry set to music and played on classical guitar. Time stood still, as in a surrealist painting. As such, it helped me shake off the feeling of missed magic that the poem The Tower in the Wasteland, by the Spanish poet Julio Martinez Mesanza, gave me, when I read it this morning, while wearing my white silk gown, and feeling stupid, sick, and sentimental.

My sole desire is order, and beauty
that women do not have. My sole desire
is a life beyond doubt: goals defined
and reached without scheming, in broad daylight.
The clarity of swords is what I love,
the clarity of powerful structures.
In this wasteland the tower dazzles me,
and I march toward the tower. Whatever lies
in wait for me – toothless ridicule
or the deceitful word of sophistry
or the traitor’s two-sided battle-axe
or a woman’s body or any body –
I will view the infamy from the tower.

(trans. Don Bogen)


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